I'm going to start with I LOVE VIETNAM.
When I think about this past week, the people we have met and the experiences we have had makes Vietnam (in my eyes) a beautiful country.
From the tall, thin houses in the city (family hierarchy live at the bottom and young girls at the top) to the grand stretch of greenery, rivers and lakes-Vietnam is a place to which I want to return.
Forget everything you've read about certain areas disliking tourists, I mean this might be true in some of the places which we didn't visit, but I can honestly say we did not experience that. In fact we were made to feel as welcome as royalty in the hotels, like friends in the restaurants and family on our tour bus. Besides, they LOVE to make a quick 100 Dong from the tourists-so what's not to love about us?!
The Vietnamese are proud people and they deserve to be. They've built themselves up after getting knocked down repeatedly and have created a beautiful country in need of being explored, experienced and appreciated. From our experience they are keen to celebrate their cultural differences and eager to share their diversity with us. They want us to see the pride they have in their country. They want us to know that Vietnam is strong. They want us to know that 'Vietnam is a country, not a war.'
The Vietnamese also seem to be peaceful people; not once have we witnessed an argument in all the time we've been here. The roads may appear manic, but there's still a system in place that needs to be adhered to. We didn't see any road rage either-remember the beeping of the horn is giving a friendly warning. We had many 'friendly warnings' whilst innocently walking down the pavement!
Unfortunately what hasn't quite reached Vietnam is the ability to queue. If there is a long line of people the. In Vietnam you find the thinnest part of the line and hop on in. Be prepared to drop your British queuing mantra and hop in with the rest!
Another slightly odd thing about Vietnam is their love of music. I'm not saying I didn't think they'd like music, it's WHAT music they are listening to. 4 times out of 10 it's songs in Vietnamese-which is what I expected. But those other 6 times? It's instrumental versions of western love songs from the 80s and 90s. Weird, but it makes you feel at home!!
Even as we leave now we've realised how much there is of Ho Chi Min which we haven't seen, let alone the rest of Vietnam! Therefore we must return.
I'm going to miss getting lost in Ho Chi Min, knowing Hanoi like the back of my hand, cooking my own Vietnamese food in a restaurant and local beer (not so different to non local beer). Maybe I'll even miss crossing the road...
You and Vietnam:
If you ever go to Vietnam and wish to cross the road then here is some advice:
Close your eyes...haha
If you're having problems then the trick is to 'buddy up'-a trick which I've created in Siagon.
1. Find a local who is crossing the same road.
2. Fall into step with them as they cross.
3. If they stop you stop, if they walk you walk.
4. Reach your destination (the other side of the road) safely, but with no sense of accomplishment-because you cheated the system!
Best place to do this is on a really busy road. You can cross small roads by yourself-if you can't then you shouldn't be in Vietnam!
Also, be prepared for locals who talk to you a lot. Not because they are dangerous and wish to attack you, but because they see you as an opportunity to practise their English skills. Pretty much everywhere we've been we have been part of some English learning experiment!
Try Pho (local dish, basically it's a noodle broth but can have any meat/veg in it). Dine out in both the local cafe (a rushed, manic experience but great food for ridiculously cheap prices) and dine in places that look a bit fancy (chances are you will still get a 2/3 course meal for under £25 FOR TWO).
Don't go to Saigon airport in the morning and think that a Burger King breakfast is the way forward. It is not. It will end up being the greasiest, least satisfying breakfast you'll ever meet-and quite frankly not worth the calories! You will also be charged extra to change your hot drink and be met by two teenagers who want to communicate through a calculator. (I have no problem with their lack of English, we are the foreigners who couldn't be bothered to learn Vietnamese before we flew. I had a problem with their lack of willing to help the customer-so I guess Vietnam is perfect after all!)
In a nutshell Vietnam is well worth a visit, but I'd either select an area and spend slightly longer there/ travel around near that area so that you've really seen it (that's if you're just looking for a short two week break) or go for about a month and start from one end and travel up/down (which is what I want to do). Oh and go to Halong Bay!!! It's in the north, near Hanoi, and you can do one day/two day or more trips out there. You can stay on a boat in Halong Bay etc. Stunning.
Interesting cultural differences.
What's not to love?!